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THE United States government will not grant Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s request to relocate the headquarters of the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) to Africa, investigations by The ICIR have revealed.
AFRICOM, one of the 11 unified combatant commands of the US Department of Defense responsible for military operations in Africa, has its headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany.
Buhari had, during a virtual meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on April 27, urged the US government to relocate AFRICOM’s headquarters to Africa.
Buhari’s requested the backdrop of growing security challenges in West and Central Africa, the Gulf of Guinea, Lake Chad region and the Sahel.
In making the request, the Nigerian president noted that US assistance to African countries in the campaign against terrorism would be more effective if AFRICOM had its headquarters closer to the theatre of operations.
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But a spokesperson for the Pentagon, the US Department of Defense headquarters, has informed The ICIR that AFRICOM would not be relocated to Africa, as requested by Buhari.
Pentagon Spokesperson (Africa/Central Asia/Middle East), Office of the Secretary of Defense, Cynthia King, disclosed in response to The ICIR.
Following Buhari’s request, The ICIR had contacted the Pentagon, the US Department of Defense, to find out if the US government would relocate AFRICOM’s headquarters to Africa.
Responding to The ICIR’s questions, Pentagon spokesperson, King, explained that the relocation of AFRICOM was not part of an ongoing ‘Global Posture Review’ of the operations of US combatant commands.
In a series of emails exchanged with The ICIR’s correspondent, King said previous studies conducted by the US government on the possible relocation of AFRICOM’s headquarters to Africa concluded that the cost of the relocation would undermine the effectiveness of the command’s operations.
She said, “Although there is an ongoing Global Posture Review, the relocation of Combatant Command headquarters is outside the scope of its assessment.
“In the case of AFRICOM, previous studies have concluded that the cost associated with the relocation of this headquarters is significant and likely to incur the expense of other engagement opportunities and activities that more directly benefit our valued African partners.”
“We greatly value the partnership with Nigeria and appreciate President Buhari’s recognition of the United States’ positive contribution to African peace and security, as well as other regional partners that have made similar past pronouncements. The United States remains committed to continuing our close partnership with African countries and organisations to promote security and stability,” the Pentagon spokesperson added.
Following the response, The ICIR’s correspondent pointedly asked whether the previous studies mentioned by the Pentagon spokesperson ruled out the relocation of AFRICOM’s headquarters to Africa and whether it means that the US government would not grant Buhari’s request.
Responding to the follow-up questions by The ICIR, the Pentagon spokesperson said the studies ruled out the relocation of AFRICOM’s headquarters to Africa.
According to her, the studies noted that the relocation would be very costly and would undermine the impact of operations.
King said, “Yes, the previous studies indicated the costs would be significant to move the AFRICOM headquarters.
“The previous studies ruled out relocating of AFRICOM’s headquarters to Africa, as it was determined that a move would incur significant costs that would detract from engagement opportunities and activities that more directly benefit our African partners.”
She added, “It would be inappropriate to speculate on any future actions; however, at this time, moving this headquarters to Africa is not part of any plans.”
Although the US government would not be relocating AFRICOM’s headquarters to Africa, the Pentagon spokesperson said the US was committed to assisting African countries in overcoming challenges associated with terrorism and other forms of insecurity.
“AFRICOM’s commitment to their mission, our African and other partners, remains as strong today as when we launched this command more than a decade ago,” King observed.
- Trump administration planned to relocate AFRICOM’s headquarters
Although the Pentagon ruled out any possible relocation of AFRICOM’s headquarters to Africa in the interview with The ICIR, the US Department of Defense in September 2020, had considered the relocation of the command after the administration of former President Donald Trump announced plans to move 12,000 troops out of Germany.
Then Acting Defense Department policy chief James Anderson had told the House Armed Services Committee that AFRICOM would be moving out of Germany “to a different location” to be determined based on the costs involved and the receptivity of potential host nations to its presence.
However, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Chrissy Houlahan had, at the public hearing in September 2020, observed that the Trump administration’s decision to move AFRICOM’s headquarters out of Germany without any agreement on where it would be relocated “does not seem to make any sense”.
In line with the Global Posture Review, Pentagon, under the present US government led by President Joe Biden, is reviewing how US overseas forces are positioned worldwide.
As part of the review, US military authorities are reportedly assessing the plan by the Trump administration to move AFRICOM out of Germany along with thousands of troops.
There were concerns that the moves by the Trump administration to pull out troops from Germany would have ended the US’s military presence in the European country. However, although the plan is officially on hold, the Pentagon has not formally cancelled the decision taken by the former US President.
- Nigeria, other African countries initially opposed US plans to locate AFRICOM’s headquarters in Africa
The Pentagon had intended to have AFRICOM’s headquarters in Africa when the command was established in 2008, but that plan was dropped after stiff opposition from several African countries, arguing that hosting the military outfit on the continent would amount to another form of colonisation by the US.
In 2007, a US delegation led by the Principal Deputy Under-Secretary of Defense for Policy Ryan Henry could not make any headway in a series of consultations with different African countries while trying to secure facilities and local back up for the new command in Africa.
Several African countries, including those considered Washington’s friends on the continent, pointedly told the US that they did not welcome a permanent US military presence in their territories.
Besides issues relating to sovereignty, the African countries were concerned that AFRICOM’s facilities could become a target of terrorist attacks, thereby exposing them to terrorism. The concern trumped suggestions that the military command would come with economic incentives, including prospects of hundreds of local jobs.
In September 2007, weeks after the Southern African Development Community (SADC) released a public objection to the presence of American soldiers in all Southern African countries, the Nigerian government then headed by late President Umaru Yar’Adua rejected plans by the US to host AFRICOM in Africa.
Nigeria also opposed any plans to locate the command in any other country in West Africa.
Nigeria, Libya and South Africa had spearheaded continent-wide rejection of plans to locate AFRICOM’s headquarters in the continent.
Buhari’s recent call on the US government to relocate AFRICOM to Africa suggests that some of the previous opposition to hosting the US command in Africa has faded.–_ However, sentiments expressed by a former Senator representing Kaduna Central Shehu Sani indicate that there are still misgivings over the matter.
Sani recently expressed concerns that Buhari’s request that AFRICOM is relocated to Africa was an open invitation for recolonisation of Africa by other world powers who might want to follow suit immediately after the US moved in.
“The President’s call for world powers military HQ on African soil is an open invitation for recolonisation of Africa. It’s easier to tell and get them to come, and when they come, it’s impossible to tell and get them to go out.
“Once the US relocates their HQ to Africa, Russia, China, Iran, Saudia, Israel, and co would follow suit with establishing their Commands HQs, and then Africa will be militarily balkanized; then we either become like Korea or like Syria,” Sani tweeted.
AFRICOM became a fully operational command on October 1, 2008, following a directive issued by then US President George Bush in February 2007 to create a US African Command. The decision was the culmination of several years of deliberation within the Department of Defense acknowledging the growing strategic importance of Africa.
On its website, africom.mil, its mission statement said: “US Africa Command, with partners, counters transnational threats and malign actors, strengthen security forces, and responds to crises to advance US national interests and promote regional security, stability, and prosperity.”
“A safe, stable, and prosperous Africa is an enduring American interest,” it added.
The website further explained that AFRICOM was responsible for all US Department of Defense operations, exercises, and security cooperation on the African continent, island nations, and surrounding waters.
Its area of responsibility consists of 53 African states, more than 800 ethnic groups, over 1,000 languages, vast natural resources, a landmass of 11.2 million square miles (three-and-a-half times the size of the US), and nearly 19,000 miles of coastland.
However, questions about whether Germany was the right location for AFRICOM had lingered since the formation of the command. Some political leaders in the US had reportedly lobbied to have AFRICOM’s headquarters in their home districts in the hopes of gaining jobs and the economic ripple effects of hosting a major command.